Subdued Home Run Races: The Chase Not Receiving the Fanfare It Once Held

Phil GardnerContributor IIIJune 15, 2011

BALTIMORE, MD - JUNE 05:  Jose Bautista #19 of the Toronto Blue Jays waits to bat against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on June 5, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Jose Bautista has come out of nowhere the past two seasons to become baseball’s undefeated undisputed champion of the long ball, but today he has to share his title.

With a sixth inning blast against the Rangers, Curtis Granderson of the Yankees finally caught up and tied Bautista atop the home run leader board. Teammate Mark Teixeira is hot on their heels, trailing them by only two.

Last season, it was a one horse race. Rather than competing with his peers, it was Jose Bautista competing against history and everybody predicting how high and far his season would go. He finished with 54, 12 more than his next closest competitor.

Just to put that in perspective, 1990 was the last time a player had won the home run title by 10 or more over the next closest.

This season, Jose got off to another blistering start and told the world he was for real. Since that time, Curtis Granderson has slowly chipped away last night he finally tied him for the Major League lead. Both sluggers are on pace for more than 50 home runs.

For Granderson and Teixeira, they’re holding their own home run race. The last time teammates hit this many homeruns this early in the season, it was 1961 when Maris and Mantle were chasing down Babe Ruth’s record.

The strangest part is that you have to dig to find these stats out. Just remember back to the 1990’s and opening the newspaper every morning to see the top home run hitters, what their current pace was, and what Ruth and Maris had hit by that point in the season.

Now, home runs seem to be an afterthought without nearly the same fan fare and hooplah.

We all know why it is. Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa forever changed the home run race, and their steroid filled bodies pushed the records so far out of reach for ordinary humans.

Babe Ruth’s record stood for 34 years until-with a week of extra games-Maris was able to surpass him by one. That record stood for 37 years until McGwire blew it away with nine more home runs. Only three seasons later we saw Barry Bonds surpass that record as well.

Following the steroid era, home runs fell off. Nobody was hitting 60, or even 50 home runs; and for two straight years nobody in the American League could even muster 40. Barry Bonds passing Hank Aaron had left a sour taste in everybody’s mouth and home runs were far from everybody’s mind.

Finally, last season saw Jose Bautista make his historical run. Very few players have ever hit 50 home runs, and Jose Bautista managed to do it following a career of mediocrity and minor league transactions. Even though it was a race against himself, it was exciting and had the whole baseball world captivated.

The skinny Dominican player looked nothing like the juicers who had been ousted and while some fans had their doubts, most were ready to accept his results and cheer him on. This year, he’s been joined by Curtis Granderson, the skinny speedster CF for the Yankees who has a lot of pop in his bat.

At least now, fans can be confident that what they’re watching is pure talent, and not juiced up stats.

2010 really helped to bring fans back to cheering on home run races. It was a step in the right direction for baseball, and it was the right sort of player to do it.

For the MLB, fans now have an honest home run race they can cheer on. For Yankees fans, they can watch Granderson and Teixeira try to keep up with history. Many other fans will be watching Prince Fielder, Matt Kemp and Lance Berkman will keep pace or over take them.

Home run races are good for baseball. It’ll still be a number of years before people finally move on from the steroid era, and accept power hitting players.

In the mean time, players will keep duking it out on the field and battling for the top stats.

Baseball will always eventually win.